“Stop what?” right? That’s the natural question to follow a declarative headline like that. Maybe even a little panic: “No! Don’t stop doing anything! You’re awesome, do more!” Which makes me smile. Because I want to do more, in fact, I have to do more.
However, in order to go there, I have something I need to stop doing. I have to stop believing that my life will only be my own once I hit menopause.
No, seriously. I have had that belief since I was about 12. Like most of my girl friends in elementary school, we got our periods at 10 and 11. I was so pissed. Fuck, fuck, fuck. It felt like a switch had been turned on against my will. Now all that crazy bullshit about jealousy and possession and competition and attraction would apply to me. Objectification begins now.
This is hard to describe. I was very aware that I did not have a say in the world around me. I was very aware what little power girls actually had in affecting her environment, especially from a family as broke as mine. I watched as other girls threw themselves into the identities and roles made available to them. Not ones they created, but the ones they had to choose from.
Once in the 6th grade I watched as a friend of mine got ready to go out. We were a year apart in age. She was 13 and wearing huge gold hoop earrings. She had stolen her older sister’s jet black eyeliner, lit the tip with a lighter like a pro.
She asked me, “You got your rag yet? Cuz, you don’t act like it.” Looking me up and down in my ‘play’ clothes. I could tell she wanted to fit in with the older girls who got a lot of attention from the guys who had cars.They were her template, her immediate role models. Big earrings, lots of eyeliner, dark lipstick, standing with your feet apart at a certain angle, talking from the side of your mouth, clicking and sucking your teeth. Never playing tetherball, never playing handball. Done. Recess was now for talking about boys. My response: “Pssh, ya I got it. But how my s’posed to act? Like a prissy bitch all the time?” And there went the line in the sand. I really didn’t know what else to say.
OK fine, I thought to myself, I’m gonna be stuck in this madness for the next 30 years. But this shit doesn’t last forever. It starts and it stops. If it defines me now, who will I be then? I started to research about what happens later in life. This is before the internet… I had to go to a library… find books and magazines… use a card catalogue.
You know the librarian looked at me all kinds of crazy when I corrected her when she assumed I had got the words wrong: “Menopause? No, no, dear you mean menstruation.” Really, lady, you want to make this more awkward for me? Aggravated eye-roll. Sigh. “No, I mean menopause, menstruation I got, thanks.” She was useless. So I went to my personal fountain of information: the National Geographic Collection. Not sure why I doubted it to begin with.
Through my research, I found out that in many cultures women, after their menses stopped, were able to become more involved with the larger decision making processes for their communities. That being a grandmother was a leadership position. That post-menopausal women were welcome on councils unlike child-baring women, their wisdom and judgement respected. Total mind fuck for a US girl growing up in the 80’s.
I also assumed that I had to go through all this reproductive madness in order to gain that wisdom. OK, light at the end of the tunnel. 40 became the age where I would be a grown up. In my world, plenty of “babies had babies.” There was nothing noble or magic or special about getting knocked up. In fact, it meant you were stupid. Not the guy though, just the girl, somehow we got ourselves pregnant. I saw femininity as prescribed by my society as inherently childish, I saw older women fighting to stay young as seriously confused.
But being a guy wasn’t any better. I watched teenaged boys dumb themselves down too. Their emotional IQ’s plummeted. I watched them adopt know it all stances on everything. Watched them expect to be treated with a respect that they hadn’t earned yet. Masculinity wasn’t an option either. At least I could respect girls for doing the best with the hand they were dealt. Boys, though, they had the power to change shit, but were just as caught up in the drama.
I didn’t know then that I was chaffing under the restraints of patriarchy. It was an organic feeling. No one told me to, I didn’t read about it in a book. I felt it. I felt the misogyny. I felt the inequality.
I also knew that I was going to fall in love with a man and have babies, it was inevitable. I wouldn’t be able to maintain this constant separation if it was only based upon intellectual insight, I believed my physiology was working against me. I knew social acceptance would win. I felt a strong identification with my mother and aunts and grandmothers. We are breeders. No way around it.
So 40 became the age of actualization for me. Bring on the wrinkles, the gray hair, the saggy boobs, the lack of male attention, whatever. I didn’t think I would fucking care, at least then I’ll be done with the bulk of this patriarchal bullshit. At 40 I’ll get to have a say. I’ll be wise.
I can see now how knowing there was a boundary, a natural limit, a bookend beyond anyone’s control, allowed me to enjoy heteronormative heterosexuality for a little while. Long enough to have my children. I was never going to be a good wife, though. That was just not going to happen. Mom- I can do. Wife- not so much.
Those are the origins of the epic age of 40 to me. The belief that as long as I am capable of having babies, I’m not actually living my life for me. Not sure how conscious of a decision it was to have my kids at 21 and 22, but it’s awfully convenient that they will be full grown by the time I hit menopause. Very very convenient.
It’s scary to encounter internalized oppression. It’s saddening and maddening and bewildering too. Like, this is what’s stopping me… an invisible force inside of myself? I’ve been holding back (believe it or not) because the next set of babies may appear at ANY minute. That’s part of my family template too, most of the siblings are half-siblings. I might let my guard down, fall in love and BOOM! more babies.
And that feeling has come up. It was a major part of my last relationship, identifying that overwhelming urge to make more of someone else, despite my own better judgement. It was a huge epiphany to have. I am so grateful for the friendship of that guy, though. He was able to understand that this desire was not about him, but more about me struggling with this conditioning I felt subjected to. Crying on the phone to him once, I called it my ‘reproductive epiphany.’ I’ve been coming to terms with it ever since. What does it mean to have that power? How much control do I have over it? Is it really as permanent as it feels? I know all the different ways society feels about it, but how do I feel about it?
It’s hard because my friends are starting to want to have children. So when I say, “Ya, I think I’m getting too old to have more kids,” they look at me funny. They’re in their mid-30’s and have been living for themselves this whole time. Becoming a parent is something they’ve been able to dream about, to yearn for, or at least figure out how to avoid till they accomplished other things. This is also a class issue. A big one. It’s directly tied to socio-economic status in my mind.
It’s a belief in what is or is not possible. What is good or bad to invest my time and energy in? I am getting closer to figuring out what I want, as opposed to what I’m supposed to want. All of this is to say, out loud, in public, to a mass audience, digitalized for all eternity, that I think I’m ready to grow up now and I’m gonna stop waiting.